Buffalo Beauts head coach and general manager Ric Seiling has had a very busy month of May. Seiling has signed nine of the 17 players that will be on the Beauts’ full-time roster, which includes six players who played for Buffalo in their inaugural season.
The Beauts finished the season with consecutive losses to the Boston Pride in the Isobel Cup championship series, after upsetting the regular season runners up, the Connecticut Whale. After finishing the season below .500, the team’s unexpected trip to the finals warrants the return of much of its roster.
While most players appear to be ready to re-sign in Buffalo, it has been widely speculated that the captain of Team USA’s women’s team, Meghan Duggan, will be seeking a contract elsewhere.
Recently, Duggan announced that she would leave her position as assistant coach for Clarkson University to focus all of her efforts on preparing for the 2018 Olympic games. This decision frees the featured forward to play more than the 13 games she appeared in for the Beauts in the regular season.
That leaves Buffalo short one star forward. Duggan’s 16 points (six goals and 10 assists) in the regular season were third on the team, but it was Duggan’s presence that made the Beauts a better team. Scoring prowess aside, Duggan is a natural leader, a physical force, a skilled puck carrier, a visionary playmaker — she is a generational player, and will be nearly impossible for Seiling to replace.
Thankfully, Buffalo has options. With their nine players signed, the Beauts still have $152,000 of cap space, thanks to a $5,000 draft tax rebate sent by the Riveters’ for the signing of 2015 first-round pick Courtney Burke.
While former Mercyhurst forward Emily Janiga certainly adds size and physicality in Duggan’s stead, she has yet to prove herself in the professional ranks; in fact, Janiga was left off of the roster for the National Team’s off-ice training camp, which is scheduled to take place in June. This is the second consecutive camp Janiga has been passed over for after she was slated to play with Team USA in the Four Nations Cup last November, but had to stay Stateside because of an injury.
Another Beauts draft pick, Sarah Lefort, is floating in the netherworlds of free agency. Lefort is a former Boston University teammate of CWHL superstar Marie-Philip Poulin, who led the league in points for Les Canadiennes de Montreal. In February, Lefort set the hockey world on fire when she surpassed Poulin for the scoring record at BU. She finished her collegiate career with 91 goals and 92 assists. Like Janiga, her balanced scoring makes her a perfect wing for Shelby Bram and Kelley Steadman – especially Steadman, whose one-timed snipes are nearly impossible for opposing goalies to stop.
Of course, there is a lengthy list of free agents available that could help fill the gap Duggan has left behind.
Connecticut Whale forward Shiann Darkangelo is coming off of a fantastic inaugural season, and improved her stock with a strong performance at the IIHF Women’s World Championships. Only four other players on the U.S. team scored more points than Darkangelo, and only three had more assists.
Despite missing four games mid-season due to a knee injury, Darkangelo led the Whale in goals. With playmakers like Janiga and potentially Lefort, Buffalo’s scoring woes seemingly disappear into the ether. Three lines capable of scoring at any time is a threat that few teams can handle for a full 60 minutes.
It will certainly be difficult for Seiling to find a single player that fills all of the roles the Meghan Duggan plays for a team. Fortunately for the Beauts, the wily GM has set himself up to have a little extra money to play with when it comes time to signing a few big names that could combine to give Buffalo the strength and scoring that Duggan takes with her when she inevitably heads to the coast.